A Word to the Rich (1 Timothy)

            One of the things that Sueanne and I tried to teach our children as they were growing up was the value of money.  I’m not sure at what age it happens, but somewhere along the line, children begin to take on the consumer mentality of our culture.  I’m sure all of you parents have experienced this when you’re pushing your shopping cart up to the cashier only to get bombarded by your kids who want the nearby gum, mints, candy bars, and Pez dispensers that are strategically positioned to catch the attention of your children.  And I would imagine that you parents can hardly get through the store without saying, “Not today” about a hundred times.

            I recently heard about a mother who wanted to teach her daughter the value of money.  There was a certain toy that her daughter had been begging for, so this mother let her daughter do various jobs around the house to earn the money to purchase this toy.  After working for a while, the daughter finally had enough money.  So, the mother went to the store, bought the toy, and brought it home.  She gave it to her daughter, and then asked for the money in return — all of it.

            This was a bit shocking and disturbing to the daughter.  She said, “All of it?”  The mother said, “Yes dear, all of it.  This is how much it costs.”  And rather reluctantly, the daughter emptied her small wallet of all the money that she had earned and then took the toy up to her room to play with it.  A few days later, as she began to lose interest in this toy, she came to her mother and said, “I really miss my money.”

            And I’m sure that all of us can think back on something that we purchased only to regret it later.  Possessions, money, and stuff can really grab ahold of us, can’t they?  It’s just part of our culture.  It is so much a part of our way of life here in this country that those of us who are Christians need regular reminders as to how to think and how to live in this kind of environment.

            As we come to the book of 1 Timothy, we find an important warning that the apostle Paul gives about how God wants us to think about our stuff.  Because, the truth is, money, possessions, stuff or even wealth is not necessarily bad, but it can lead us toward sin.

            First, let’s take a look at this overview of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, and then I’ll be back to take a closer look at what Paul had to say to those of us who are rich.

            Watch VIDEO (1 Timothy)

            In chapter 6, verse 17, the apostle Paul wrote, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19).

            Paul gives us some instructions as we consider how to handle our money.    The word “rich” is just all over this text.   In just three verses Paul uses the words “rich,” “riches,” “richly,” and “to be rich”, and he puts them all so closely together that it seems clear that Paul is trying to make an important point about money. 

            The Bible has a lot of warnings about being rich.  You remember the rich young ruler who walked away from Jesus, and Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24).   By the way, Jesus meant a literal needle, not a low gate in the wall of Jerusalem, as is sometimes taught.  Jesus was saying that it’s impossible, not merely difficult, it’s impossible for those who are rich to enter God’s kingdom.  But, fortunately for us, what is impossible with man is always possible with God.

            In Luke 6, Jesus gives some beatitudes, but he also gives some woes.  Jesus said, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry…” (Luke 6:24-25).

            James gives the same message in his letter, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.” (James 5:1).

            And even earlier in I Timothy 6, Paul said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (I Timothy 6:6-10)

            It’s easy for us to think, “I really don’t see how any of these verses apply to me, because I’m not rich and I never will be.”  But, the truth is, I am rich.  You may not be able to tell it by looking at me or my clothes or looking at my minivan that has one window that won’t roll up, and a side mirror that’s held on with duct tape.  I think the duct tape has about 50,000 miles on it at this point. But the truth is, I’m very rich.

            There’s a web site you can go to and punch in your income and see how you rank with everyone else in the world, and it turns out that, with my income, I’m in the top 3% of people in the world.  That means that if you were to gather 100 people from around the world and put them in this room, I would be the third wealthiest person in the room.

            In fact, if you just make minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, and work a regular 40-hour work week, you are still in the top 14%.  You are richer than 86% of the people in this world.  By the world’s standards, we’re all rich. Our homes have indoor plumbing, electricity, heat, and furniture.  We own many convenient appliances.  Most of us own at least one automobile. We all have several changes of clothing. We enjoy clean drinking water and have access to good medical care. Let’s be honest enough to admit that we’re all rich!

            And so, what Paul has to say here, he says to all of us, because we are the ones who are “rich in this present age.”  In this passage, Paul tells us two things that we need to be careful not to do, and then he tells us two things that we need to make sure that we do.

1.         Don’t Be Proud

            Verse 17, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty.” (I Timothy 6:17).  The word “haughty simply means “proud”.  Different translations tell us not to be high-minded, not to be conceited, not to be arrogant, not to be proud. 

            Pride is a problem for everyone, but it is especially a problem for those of us who are rich.  The process can go something like this.  It starts with, “I have this,” then we move on to, “I like this,” and then it’s, “I did this.”  And, if we’re not careful, we end up saying, “I deserve this.”  And, at the center of this is an attitude of self-importance, self-reliance, and self-congratulation.  Which can bring about an attitude of arrogance.

            It’s easy to look down on those who have less than we do and think, “If they would only work as hard as I do, they wouldn’t be so poor.  Or, if they just use their heads like I do, they wouldn’t be so poor.” In other words, “I am the reason I’m rich. I worked hard; I used my brains. I deserve it.”  

            God warned the Jews about this as they were getting ready to move into the Promised Land.  He said, “Take care …lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14,17)

            The reason this is such a temptation is because what we earn and what we buy and what we possess feels like a part of us.  Greed is not just about having more; it’s holding on to this idea that this is mine.  And that favorite word for toddlers becomes the theme of our lives – it’s mine.  Everything in my house is mine.  Everything in my bank account is mine.  I earned it.  I brought home the paycheck.  It’s mine. 

            But Paul brings us back to reality when he says in I Corinthians 4, “What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (I Corinthians 4:7, NLT).  The truth is, God has given us everything we have.  And we need to remember that, like Job, it can all be taken away from us in the blink of an eye.

            And so, Paul warns those of us who are rich, “Don’t be proud.”

2.         Don’t trust in your riches instead of trusting in God

            Again, in verse 17, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (I Timothy 6:17)

            Paul gives us a very practical reason not to put our trust in our riches.  He says it is because they are uncertain.  Solomon once said, “Do not toil to acquire wealth…When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:4-5)

            One of the most important lessons that came from the Great Recession about 10 years ago was just how quickly our wealth can evaporate.  At that time, home values plummeted, many people lost their jobs, houses went into foreclosure.  According to the National Institute of Health, between 2007 and 2011, one fourth of American families lost at least 75 percent of their wealth, and more than half of all families in this country lost at least 25 percent of their wealth.  Suddenly, our wealth sprouted wings and flew away.

            We cannot trust in our riches, but rather we are to put our hope in God who provides everything that we have.  In the book of Philippians, Paul shares his secret to being content in every circumstance, whether he has a lot or he has just a little.  Paul said he can live in any circumstance, because his hope and his trust are in God knowing that God will provide all of his needs.

            That word “hope” is so important because it tells us what a person puts their trust in, what you rely on, what you have faith in, and where your security is.  The truth is, money can create a false sense of security, a feeling of safety.  A person who has money can forget what it feels like to live in desperation or dependence. 

            Aquinas once argued that human beings are tempted to seek material wealth because it gives us the illusion of self-sufficiency—and therefore serves as a powerful incentive to deny our need for God.

            And I think he was right.  Working to accumulate more and more in the bank is much easier than trusting God to provide for us.   And I think there are a lot of people, including some Christians, who want to be able to provide fully for themselves, so that they don’t have to depend on God.  

            It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness, and I believe that’s true.  But let me tell me what money can do.  Money produces comfort; money fixes things; money makes things happen.  Wealth can create a scenario where you become accustomed to getting things done exactly the way you want them when you want them.  Money can fix all your problems……until it doesn’t.

            And we’ve seen a lot of examples of this recently.  Money is great at keeping gas in your gas tank…….until there’s not any gas to be found in the whole state, and suddenly, having money in your bank account isn’t all that helpful.  We’ve seen so many things happen over the past year that show us that we live in a fragile environment where everything can fall apart very suddenly.

            And if our hope is in the things of this world, then we are in serious trouble.  It all comes down to this question, “Who (or what) do we really trust?”  Do we trust that God will take care of us, or do we feel the need to accumulate enough money to take care of ourselves? 

            Those of us who are rich are not to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

            So, that’s two things that those of us who are rich shouldn’t do – we shouldn’t be proud and we shouldn’t trust in our riches rather than God.  But then Paul goes on to tell us two things that we should do.

1.         Be generous and ready to share

            “As for the rich in this present age…they are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (I Timothy 6:17-18)

            Christians ought to be generous, if for no other reason than the fact that we are children of a God is generous and kind, even to the undeserving. As Paul expresses it in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

            As God blesses us with more income, we ought to be looking for how he wants us to give more, not just use it to improve our lifestyles.  George Muller was a preacher who founded an orphanage in Bristol, England in the 1830’s.  This orphanage eventually grew to over 2,000 children.  Muller never solicited any funds for his work, except when he prayed to God.  But one secret of his success was that he lived a very simple lifestyle, and he generously gave away vast sums to missions.

            In 1874, for example, Muller received donations totally 3,100 pounds a year. That was a tidy sum in those days, and he could have lived a lavish lifestyle.  But he and his family lived on 250 pounds and he gave away the rest.  I did the calculations and adjusted for inflation and here’s that looks like.  Muller received the equivalent of $90,000 a year.  He lived on $7,000 and gave away $83,000 for missions.  Over the course of over 50 years, Muller gave away 86% of his income to the Lord’s work.   All by himself, he fully supported 20 missionaries in China. 

            Do you want to know the main reason that many of us aren’t generous givers?  It’s because we don’t trust God.  We think that we’ve got to cover all possible contingencies for the future, and so we’re afraid to give because we don’t trust in a living God who will meet all of our needs in the future.  But it’s exciting to see what happens when we show our trust in God by giving and then we trust him to meet our needs.

            I heard about one Christian who wasn’t giving the way he should.  His preacher was telling him that he needed to give 10 percent to the church, but this man didn’t see how he could possibly give that much and still have enough left over to pay his bills.  His preacher said to him, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your monthly bills if you fall short, do you think you could try giving 10 percent for just one month?”

            After thinking for a moment, John said, “I could do that.  If you promise to make up any shortage, I’ll give it a try for one month.”  His preacher said, “Do you realize what you just said?  That you would be willing to trust a mere man like myself, who possesses so little materially, but you aren’t able to trust your Heavenly Father who owns the whole universe?”  Folks, we’ve got to live in such a way, and give in such a way, that we show that we truly trust our God to take care of us.

            Paul tells those of us who are rich that we must “do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share.”

            One more thing we’ve all got to do is to…

2.         Focus on the reality of eternity

            “As for the rich in this present age…they are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:17-19).

            That may sound familiar to you, and it should. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

            Jesus reminds us that our treasures here on earth are temporary, so we need to store up our treasure in heaven, where it will be last forever.  Paul says that whenever we do good and share generously, that’s what we are doing, storing up treasure in heaven,

            I find it ironic that Sigmund Freud’s favorite story was about a sailor shipwrecked on a South Sea island. The natives captured him, put him on their shoulders, carried him to their village, and set him on a crude throne.  Little by little, the man learned that it was their custom each year to make some man a king for a year.  He liked that idea until he began wondering what had happened to all the previous kings.  He discovered that after the year was up, the kings were banished to a deserted island where they starved to death.

            This king didn’t like that idea, but he still had some time left.  So, he put his subjects to work, building a house on the island, transplanting fruit trees, and planting crops on the island.  So, when his year was up, as he knew it would be, he was banished, not to a barren island, but to a place of abundance.  

            It’s a shame that Freud didn’t see the spiritual application of that story.  Because it describes exactly what’s going to happen to all of us.  One day, every single one of us will die, and when that happens, we will be “banished” to face eternity.  We only have so many years to be storing up treasures in heaven, and the way we do that is giving generously to God’s work here on this earth.  It would be short-sighted and foolish for us to live comfortable lives here on this earth, but have no regard for what certainly lies ahead.

            Those of us who are rich need to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for ourselves as a good foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of that which is truly life.

Conclusion

            Paul’s instruction is just as needed today as it was in the first century because, whether we realize it or not, our money, our possessions, our stuff threaten to take control of our lives.  The question is, how do we break free? 

            First of all, by simply being aware of our weakness.  I’d like to suggest that you do something starting this week that I think will help more than you can imagine.  This Tuesday begins a new month, June 1.  Starting Tuesday, I challenge you to keep track in the coming month of how you spend your money.  Every time you spend something, write it down or put it in a spreadsheet. 

            Then, at the end of June, as you look over that list, ask yourself the question, is there anything here that you could have done without?  Are there any purchases you made that were unnecessary?  Do you find that you focused more on yourself than you did on the needs of others?  Keep track of your money, and I think you’ll be surprised.

            Secondly – for one month, consciously take a break from consumerism.  Don’t go to the mall, don’t look through catalogs or magazines, don’t watch QVC, don’t get on Amazon to browse, don’t stroll around Wal-Mart just to see what you can find.  Limit your exposure to advertising as much as possible, including television.  I think you would be shocked to realize just how jaded we have become to the daily assault of marketing which is designed to increase our desire to possess stuff that we don’t really need.

            But, the thirdly, the best advice I can give is what Paul tells us to do — give.  I’m not talking about giving away everything you have, or even 86% of what you make.  But I am talking about making a more conscious effort to give more – giving at church, giving to those in need around us.  The more we let go of our money, the less it can take control of us.

            Get out of the habit of spending everything you want on yourself, then giving to others what’s left over.  When we look for ways to give to others first, we are forced to acknowledge that everything I own is God’s anyway for him to use as he wishes.  And giving to others is a way of showing our trust in God that he will continue to provide for our needs.

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